Boris Johnson is pursuing a “Narnia deal” with the EU, Labour warned as they urged the UK government to secure a trade agreement.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said the opposition expects the prime minister and his team to broker an arrangement to enable the UK to trade freely with the EU.
Speaking in the Commons, she added: “They can call it no deal, they can call it an Australia deal, they can call it a Narnia deal as far as I’m concerned, but let’s be honest about what that means – and let’s be honest about how damaging it is for the country.”
After a Tory MP shouted “it’s not damaging”, Reeves countered: “10% tariffs on British cars being exported to the European Union – that is damage. 40% tariffs on lamb being exported to the European Union – that is damage.
“And if any member wants to stand up and tell their constituents, tell British industry and tell British farming that that is not damaging, be my guest – but it’s not the truth.”
Reeves asked the government to publish its full economic impact assessment on the no-deal implications – broken down by industry, regions and nations of the UK.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove defended the government’s approach and claimed their “firmness” with the EU is “now bearing fruit”.
He said: “Even as we were exchanging thoughts across the despatch box earlier, it is the case my colleague David Frost was in conversation with Michel Barnier.
“I now believe it is the case Michel Barnier has agreed both to the intensification of talks and also to working on legal texts.
“I think a reflection of the strength and resolution (of) our prime minister, in stark contrast to the approach on which the Opposition have often enjoined us of simply accepting what the EU wants at every stage.”
Hilary Benn, Labour chairman of the Commons Select Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, said: “It’s quite clear that negotiations are continuing and I think the war of words now needs to stop. Both sides need to get together and agree a deal, recognising that both will have to compromise.”
SNP Cabinet Office spokesman Pete Wishart said the government’s proposed trading arrangement with the EU if no deal is agreed amounted to a “Mongolia-style deal”.
Gove replied: “He responds disparagingly to this deal as a Mongolian deal.
“I don’t know what Mongolia has ever done to offend the people of Scotland but we in the UK value our friendship with the people of Ulaanbaatar and others and certainly don’t believe in this looking down on other peoples in other nations is appropriate.”
SDLP MP Claire Hanna (Belfast South) asked Gove whether there is “any upper limit” to the damage Northern Ireland should have to sustain due to Brexit.
She told the Commons: “We’ve 70 days to go here and businesses deep in the middle of a pandemic are trying their best to prepare, but there are so many unanswered questions which all add up to costs Northern Ireland can’t afford.
“Firms and families here desperately want a deal but all we are hearing is the blame game and brinkmanship and deflection and jingoism. People in Northern Ireland are more anxious than they have been in decades, with absolutely no sense that this Government understands that.”
Gove responded: “We’ve made significant progress today in the joint committee thanks to the constructive approach taken by vice-president Maros Sefcovic.
“We’re lucky that vice-president Sefcovic and his team are so committed to making sure that the protocol works.”
Conservative MP Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) asked for assurances from Mr Gove that “he won’t go wobbly and reach for any deal on offer at that time” as the clock ticks down.
Gove joked: “I wish I had the lean physique of (Fuller) because I’m afraid there are bits of me that are wobbly, unlike with him.”
He added: “We both need to be firm in these negotiations, as the prime minister has been, and ready for any eventuality.”